By: Jessica Roy

When it comes to social media, there’s a difference between a fan and a brand advocate. Unfortunately, a Page “Like” does not always yield a loyal brand advocate.

Because social media allows for such a low barrier to entry, Facebook fans can be far more casual about their allegiance to a brand. They may have liked the Page on a whim and then forgotten about it; they may post negative feedback on your Wall or rarely engage with post content. In contrast, brand advocates are the recognizable stars of your community. They take time and effort to respond to your engagement questions, frequently interact with other fans and defend your brand against negative feedback. Most importantly, a brand advocate is a person who talks positively about a brand or product, and then passes on the positive word-of-mouth messages about the brand to other people.

Social media is a perfect avenue to nurture the brand advocates in your community and help their enthusiasm to spread. The goal is to have a lively, positive community comprised not just of fans, but of as many brand advocates is possible. Here are a few simple steps to recognize and cultivate the brand advocates in your community.

1. Content is (as always) king.
When building out your editorial calendar, think about including a variety of posts that can generate different kinds of conversations. Don’t just include links to your blog or advertisements for a certain product. Mix in special offers with pointed engagement questions (e.g. have anything fun planned for this weekend?). Remember that a community is truly successful when users engage in organic conversation with each other over topics not specifically related to your brand. It might make you feel a little left out at first, but allowing users to feel comfortable talking to each other about a host of subjects in your community is key to developing relationships both with your fans and between fans.

2. Embrace two-way dialogue.
Conversation is a two-way street. Actively respond to your community members by answering their questions and encouraging them to expand on their thoughts. By allowing your page to be a key space for dialogue between you and your fans, you humanize your brand and incentivize users to interact with it further.

3. Reward these brand advocates.
Now that you’ve figured out your top brand talkers, it’s important to reward them for their efforts. This will endear your top users to you, and will also incentivize other fans to become advocates. Rewards can be as simple as recognizing a fan’s contributions in a status update or sending them a free gift card.

4. Let them police themselves.
If a problem user begins to post negative comments on your Wall, step back and let the brand advocates handle it. Instead of charging in to respond or delete their comment, give the brand talkers some space to defend your brand. Often times letting a power user set an unwieldy fan straight can be just as potent a solution as responding yourself.